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  • Making Words Sing: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Song
  • Heather Platt
Making Words Sing: Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Song. By Jonathan Dunsby. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. [x, 153 p. ISBN 0-521-83661-1. $65.] Index, bibliography, music examples.

Since the 1980s Jonathan Dunsby has published numerous thought-provoking, influential articles and books concerning the analysis of nineteenth- and twentieth-century music, particularly the music of Brahms and Schoenberg; Schenkerian and semiotic theories; and the relationships between analysis and performance. His latest book, Making Words Sing, is informed by these diverse interests as well as by his mastery of analytical and theoretical concepts.

Although there are now numerous books on the nineteenth-century lied, there are few monographs on the lied of the twentieth century. Edward Kravitt's brilliant The Lied: Mirror of Late Romanticism (New [End Page 975] Haven: Yale University Press, 1996) is the most authoritative study of the stylistic links between these two eras, but, as the title implies, the emphasis is on the turn of the century. The subtitle of Dunsby's book, and the opening page of his introduction, might lead one to believe he will explore this topic more fully. But he does not provide a systematic analysis or survey. Instead he proffers a series of idiosyncratic discussions of a small number of pieces from both centuries in an effort to understand the special quality of vocal music, or what he calls "vocality."

Dunsby adapts to music the Oxford English Dictionary definition of vocality as "the quality of having voice" (p. 4). He uses the term to denote "those qualities of music and text that enable one to identify it as articulating narrative, mood, the times of tenses, associations, grammatical tropes such as the interrogative, visual images, persons and landscapes, the mundane and the divine. Vocality concerns everything that a replete analysis of music and text ought to explain, and ought not to neglect" (p. 62).

The pieces discussed in the most detail are: Brahms's "Von ewiger Liebe" (op. 43, no. 1); Schoenberg's "Vorgefühl" (op. 22, no. 4) and Friede auf Erden (op. 13); Alexander Goehr's The Law of the Quadrille (op. 41); György Kurtág's The Sayings of Péter Bornemisza; Cathy Berberian's Stripsody; Aaron Copland's "Going to Heaven!"; and Schubert's "Erster Verlust." At first glance this selection seems quixotic at best, though on further reading it becomes apparent that the stylistic diversity is an attempt to demonstrate the power of the term vocality, and that the text-setting techniques in the pieces can be related and compared. Nevertheless, the choice of pieces remains somewhat problematic as the twentieth-century works are not nearly as well known as the earlier ones, and Dunsby offers little in the way of introductory material. It is also surprising that he does not consider the lieder of Hugo Wolf.

As the definition of "vocality" implies, and as the diverse styles of the pieces (and their texts) necessitate, Dunsby draws on an impressive array of analytical techniques to explore the music and the original poems. In studying each song he discusses the text, and in some cases the style of the poet, and then pinpoints specific moments or structural elements in the music that are cued to the words. Along with his insightful interpretations he invokes a wide range of other scholars, and in particular critically appraises the "New Musicology." His introductory remarks about this trend demonstrate his attitude, and also his idiomatic, talky prose: "there emerged in musicology of the 1980s and 1990s not only a rather piggish liberalism coupled with a naïve—in my view —psychologism that masqueraded as a kind of psychoanalytical savvy without, if the truth be told, having much to do with psychotherapeutic scholarship or understanding, but also much more positively, what has been called a 'eucrasia', a sort of wellbeing based on openness, in technical musical discourse" (p. 2).

"Von ewiger Liebe" is the only nineteenth-century lied to be accorded its own chapter, and Dunsby begins with a surprising defense of love songs in which he discusses Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs." In the following Schenkerian analysis...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-150X
Print ISSN
0027-4380
Pages
pp. 975-978
Launched on MUSE
2006-05-22
Open Access
No
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